Thermal Management in Automobiles

Thermal Management In Automobile

Driven by downsizing, systems integration and the arrival of electric vehicles, thermal management has become one of the biggest challenges in modern automobiles design. This challenge calls for the development of advanced thermal materials that will enhance heat dissipation and cooling, in both exterior and interior heat-generating systems.

Automobile Electronics

Miniaturization and systems integration lie at the forefront of automobile electronics design, which is itself driven by a demand for vehicles with higher fuel efficiency, improved safety, seamless connectivity, and autonomous functionality. Subsequently, circuit design has evolved to meet demands for higher energy output.

With smaller electronic components and a higher energy density, thermal management becomes a concern. Since the smaller devices have less surface available to act as a heatsink, dissipating heat from these systems remains an operating and safety challenge. Thermal management is an evolving branch of vehicle design that uses advanced thermal interface materials (TIMs) to facilitate better heat conduction away from circuits.

Thermal Management Inside Vehicle Cabins

Some of the main heat-generating electronic components inside the passenger compartment are:

Vehicle Infotainment Systems

These highly integrated, powerful systems with multiple displays where the driver controls a host of functions like Bluetooth, GPS, audio, etc.

Challenge: Today’s infotainment systems contain a high number of circuits and LED chips which produce a lot of heat, making proper thermal management critical.

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS)

ADAS integrated multiple systems throughout the vehicle, such as sensors, cameras, connectivity features and above all, a data module that combines the information received from the various components.

Challenge:  The high output of data from these systems demands effective heat dissipation that can ensure continued reliability and function.

Thermal Management Outside Vehicle Cabins

Outside the passenger compartment thermal management becomes a bit more complex, as components not only have to deal with higher operating temperatures, but also with exposure to various environmental factors, such as moisture, salts, corrosive vapors and extreme weather conditions. They are often sealed for mechanical and physical protection, which creates further complications for transferring excess heat and cooling. These components include:

Engine Control Units (ECUs)

ECUs control all electronic aspects of a vehicle from the powertrain system to central locks. ECUs rely on an uninterrupted data flow between input sensors and output components to control engine function.

Challenge: Thanks to the massive amount of information generated by these systems, thermal management becomes crucial to ensure functional integrity and continuity.

Brake System Control

This and different classes of sensors are other systems located outside the passenger cabin that generate heat.

Challenge: Quick and efficient heat dissipation from these systems is crucial for the smooth and safe operation of any vehicle. 

E-mobility

e-Mobility

The rise of companies like Tesla has forced auto manufacturers to redefine corporate strategies and adapt to market demand driven by new consumer preferences. Increased demand for electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) come with new design challenges for auto makers to lower manufacturing cost, increase battery range, reduce weight, and improve safety and reliability.

Like internal combustion engines, powertrains are the heart of EVs. The main components are the battery pack, electric motor, and power conversion system. One of the biggest challenges of EV design is maximizing power output while minimizing battery size and weight. One strategy here is to combine the power conversion system and electric motor into a single unit, while simultaneously reducing the size of each component. While this approach improves the power density and efficiency of the e-drive, it increases the chance of motor failure due to excessive heat. Thus thermal management in both components becomes crucial.

Electric Motors

Converting electrical energy to mechanical energy and are one of the main components of EV powertrains.

Challenge: Heat can reduce the power of a motor and shorten its lifespan; therefore, it is critical to quickly and efficiently conduct heat away from the motor.

Power Conversion Systems

Vehicle power electronics comprise the part of the EV powertrain that controls and distributes electric power to the other systems, and also controls the speed and torque of the motor.  It consists of three main electronic components: the on-board charger (OBC), the inverter system (IGBT modules), and the DC/DC converter. To save space and lower total weight, consequently increasing range, design strategy has focused on reducing component size and consolidating them.

Challenge: These components operate at high voltages and consume a lot of energy, which helps reduce charging time. However, the heat generated becomes difficult to regulate since the reduced size of components provide less surface area for heat dissipation.

Battery Systems

The design of these systems has a huge impact on the range, power density, charging time, and long-term performance of an EV.

Challenge: As with all electronic parts, the smaller the battery packs become, the more challenging thermal management becomes. Beside thermal management, cell-to-cell and cell-to-pack bonding structural integrity must also be guaranteed.

Automotive Thermal Management Solutions

To solve these multiple design challenges, and also to create options for our OEM partners, MG Chemicals has developed a wide variety of advanced thermal materials, including thermal gap fillers, thermal pastes, thermally conductive adhesives (TCAs), and thermal potting compounds.

Our thermal pastes and gap fillers displace air at the component/heat sink interface to aid in heat dissipation. Our thermal gap fillers, which have one of the highest thermal conductivity ratings in the industry, are promising choices for providing an efficient way of transferring heat from battery cells out of battery modules and then out from the battery packs themselves.

TCAs serve a similar function, but add structural integrity by creating a permanent bond at the interface of mating surfaces. They are widely used in vehicles infotainment, autonomous and ADAS systems. In EV vehicles, they are commonly used for cell-to-cell and cell-to-pack bonding, guaranteeing structural integrity and cooling of the packs.

Finally, our thermal potting compounds help prevent components from overheating while providing exceptional protection from shocks, impacts, and other environmental factors. They are proven to be highly effective in thermal management of ECU sensors and LED lights. In EV vehicles, they are reliable thermal management materials that help manufacturers to build smaller yet more reliable electric motors with higher power densities.

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